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A Few Drops and Then It Stops*

DribblesFeb2016Since it’s Friday,  I thought we all might enjoy a few sips – well, Dribbles anyway. That’s the name that author and fellow blogger Rob Kitchin has given to the little 50-word mystery stories I’ve sometimes shared.

Here are five of mine:
 

I

‘Checking out?’ the receptionist asked.
‘That’s right,’ Marco said, dropping the key on the desk.
‘Your friend not with you?’
‘He’s getting the car.’
It would take them a while to find Doug’s body in the dumpster. And even longer for the bank to track down the money they’d stolen.

 

II

‘I picked up dinner,’ Paul said.
Debbie smiled. ‘Wonderful! What’d you get?’
‘I stopped at that Chinese place.’
Paul was dead two hours later. They said it was cyanide.
At The Peacock, Daiyu smiled to herself. That bastard was finally going to pay for what he’d done to her daughter.

 

III

‘I’m sorry, sir, your claim’s been denied.’
‘How can you deny it? I have the medical records.’
‘The company has declined to pay the claim.’
‘But I can’t pay these bills. Without my treatments, I’m dead.’
‘Sorry, it’s denied. May I help the next –’
Bam! ‘Nothing to lose, anyway.’

 

IV

‘You’re gonna get us lost, the way you always do,’ Lisa complained.
‘We’re not lost,’ Gary reassured her.
‘And it’s too damned hot!’
‘I’ll turn on the air.’
‘Pull over at that rest stop. I need to go.’
Lisa got out. Thump! Gary drove off, smiling. The silence was blissful.

 

V

‘You take this train, too?’ Even Valerie’s casual remarks sounded malicious.
‘Not usually,’ Sheila pulled the letter opener from her pocket. Goodbye, Valerie the Office Queen Bee.
One hard shove, and Sheila screamed as she fell towards the track.
Valerie saw Lou and smiled. ‘Good timing.’
‘Always there for you.’

 

Care to try your hand? I would love to see your Dribbles. If you’d like to share some of your own, email them to me (margotkinberg(at)gmail(dot)com), and I’ll post your contributions in a couple of weeks. C’mon! You know you wanna play!!

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Peter Mulvey’s Birgit.

 

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A Night Out

A Night OutThis little story is a response to a prompt from talented mystery writer and fellow bloger D.S. Nelson. Do go check out her blog and see the other responses to her prompt! Thanks for the inspiration, D.S.!

 

‘I told you, I’m not going,’ Aiden insisted.
Charlie took a swallow of beer and said, ‘Why not? You need to get out more. It’s been, what, three months since Jill left.’
Aiden glanced around to make sure nobody was listening. He needn’t have worried. Everyone was staring at the bar’s two TV screens. ‘We’re out now, aren’t we?’
‘You know what I mean.’
‘I hate going to parties. I always end up in the kitchen trying to look deeply interested in the bottles of beer and wine in the refrigerator.’
‘You don’t try hard enough. Last time, when we went to Jimmy’s, you barely talked to anyone, let alone try to meet a girl.’
‘You know I’m no good at pickup lines.’

Charlie looked down, then back up at Aiden. ‘Look, I promised Gavin you’d be there. Don’t make me look like a liar.’
Aiden ran a hand through his mop of dark curls. ‘All right, all right. But I’m only going to spend the whole time warming one of the kitchen chairs again.’
Charlie smiled. ‘You won’t regret it,’ he said. ‘Gavin’s invited some very hot friends of his.’ He finished the last of his beer, then said, ‘I gotta go. See you Saturday.’
Aiden nodded miserably. He was not looking forward to this party.

Three nights later, Charlie and Aiden pulled up in front of the building where Charlie’s business partner Gavin lived. It was a warm night and they could hear music drifting from Gavin’s second floor window. ‘You ready to party?’ Charlie asked.
‘I’m staying for exactly one hour. That’s all.’ Aiden snapped.
‘For you, that’ll set a record.’
The two of them got out of the car and went into the building.

It was as bad as Aiden had feared it would be. There were plenty of pretty girls, but not one of them said more than a cool ‘hello’ to him. He looked around the room and saw that both Gavin and Charlie were already deep in conversation with other people. No help there. And he didn’t really know anyone else. There was nothing to do but head for the kitchen like always.

When he got there, Aiden saw a few other people standing awkwardly around. At least he wasn’t alone. He nodded to the one or two who looked up at him and headed for the refrigerator. He pulled out a beer and turned around to look for a place to sit. That was when he noticed Rachel sitting at the table. Wavy copper hair, dark green eyes, and a warm smile. Curves, too. What was she doing in the kitchen? She saw him, smiled and patted the seat next to hers.
‘Come sit down, Aiden. I haven’t seen you lately.’
‘Hi,’ he said as he sat down. ‘Yeah, I’ve been busy with work.’ He glanced at her, then back at his beer.
‘Yeah?’ she asked teasingly. ‘Big drama in the world of market research?’

They chatted a few more minutes, and then Aiden said, ‘I hope – listen, do you mind if I ask you something?’
‘Go ahead.’
‘Why aren’t you out there dancing?’
‘I’m sick of being pawed at and treated like a piece of meat. Gavin always says he’ll watch out for me, I’m his little sister. But he doesn’t. I’m just tired of it.’
For a minute or two more, Aiden and Rachel sat at the table talking about nothing. He noticed that Rachel seemed to be relaxing a little. Now was his chance. If he didn’t say something, he never would.
‘You – you want to dance?’ Oh, God, how lame! And after she’d just told him she didn’t want to be groped.
‘I’d like that,’ she said.

As if in a dream, Aiden walked out of the kitchen with Rachel on his arm. No more warming kitchen chairs! They started to dance, and he reminded himself not to get too friendly.

They’d just finished a slow dance when everything went dark. ‘Who the hell turned off the light?’ he heard Gavin yell. Aiden could feel Rachel next to him, could feel her hand sliding into his pocket.

After a minute or two the light flicked back on. Everyone stared in horror at Charlie’s body, stretched out on the floor. A large, spreading patch of blood was staining the front of his shirt. Rachel held tight to Aiden’s arm, her mouth open. Everyone else stood as if frozen.

Gavin called the police, who arrived moments later. Before he knew it, Aiden was sitting across from one of the officers. They were using Gavin’s bedroom as a makeshift interview room. He’d just finished telling the officer what he knew when she noticed something.
‘Sir, could I ask what’s in your pocket, please?’
‘My pocket?’
‘Yes, sir, your right pocket.’
Aiden looked down. There was an odd sort of stain on his jeans. He slid his hand into the pocket and pulled something out. Something sharp and slightly curved. He looked down at the bloody knife and back at the police officer. She said nothing, but she didn’t need to.
‘I – I didn’t – I don’t know where this came from!’ Aiden stammered.
The officer raised an eyebrow. ‘I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to stay here for the moment,’ she said. Then, never taking her eyes off Aiden, she called out, ‘Frank, can you come in here, please.’ A moment later another officer joined her. Everyone watched as the police led Aiden out to their car, his face dazed and drained.

Later, Gavin and Rachel left the apartment. He was staying the night with her, since the crime scene people wouldn’t be finished until at least late the next morning. As they got in Rachel’s car, Gavin said, ‘I can’t believe we pulled it off.’
Rachel smiled. ‘Easy as anything. I don’t think he had any idea I put that knife into his pocket.’
Gavin smiled, too. He was looking forward to spending Charlie’s half of the business.

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If I Am Guilty I Will Pay*

Who Commits MurderIt’s traditional wisdom that the most likely suspect for a murder is someone that the victim knows. That makes sense, too, when you consider that people are far more likely to have conflicts with people they know – at least, conflicts that lead to murder. There’s also the belief that the killer is most likely to be someone’s spouse or partner (or ex). That, too, makes sense, if you think about the many complications that intimacy can bring on.

But does this really hold true? It likely does in real life, but I wondered if it also did in fiction. So, I decided to find out. To test these ideas, I chose 260 fictional murders from among books that I have read. That necessarily limits what I found, since there are many thousands of books that I haven’t read. Still, I got some interesting results.

Let’s look first at the overall question: are more murders committed by people known to the victim? Here’s what I found.

 

Personal and Impersonal murders

 

 

Of the 260 fictional murders I looked at, 165 (63%) were committed by people the victim knew. That finding didn’t surprise me, since it’s so much more likely that someone the victim knows (especially, someone the victim knows well) would have a motive for murder.

I wondered whether the number of personal v impersonal murders has changed over time, since themes and topics have. So I decided to look a little more closely at the data. I divided the data into categories based on year of publication, and looked at personal v impersonal murders over time. Here’s what I found:

 

Personal and Impersonal Murders Over Time

 

As you can see, there’s been an interesting change. The percentage of murders that are impersonal seems to have risen a little over time. In the period before 1950, the percentage of impersonal murders is 17%. It’s 48% in the period between 1950-1980, and slips back to 37% between 1980-2000, rising slightly to 39% in the most recent years. This may mean that more authors have been exploring themes such as, say, espionage-related killings, gang wars, or other kinds of novels where the killer doesn’t really know the victim, at least not very well. Even so, we can’t lose sight of the fact that even over time, the vast majority of fictional murders are committed by someone the victim knows.

Is that person usually the spouse, as conventional wisdom would have us believe? I decided to look at that question more closely. So I divided the 260 fictional murders in my data set into two categories: murders committed by spouses/partners, and those not committed by spouses/partners. Here’s what I found:
 

Murders Committed by Spouses and Partners

 

Surprisingly, only 37 (14%) of these fictional murders were committed by spouses or partners. The vast majority were committed by other family members, friends, or others the victim knew. Perhaps, for those who would consider killing a spouse or partner, it’s just easier to leave an unhappy relationship than it is to murder. After all, it takes a lot for most of us to kill. Or, it may be that spouses and partners know how likely it is that they’ll be suspected, so they refrain from committing murder. Either way (and there certainly are other possible explanations), there aren’t nearly as many guilty fictional spouses and partners as one might think.

I decided to look a little more closely at this finding, too. So again, I divided those murders by spouses and partners into categories based on year of publication of the story. Here’s what I found:

 

Murders By Spouses and Partners Over Time

 

As you can clearly see, the number of personal murders committed by spouses or partners hasn’t changed nearly as much as the number committed by other family members or other people known to the victim. To put it another way, many more murders, both as a percentage and as a total number, are committed by people in the victim’s circle who are not spouses or partners.

So what does this all mean? It certainly seems to be the case that fictional victims are a lot more likely to die at the hands of someone they know. And that’s logical. At the same time, perhaps spouses and partners shouldn’t be suspected quite as readily as they are. They certainly do commit fictional murders, but not as often as you might think. Those are just my thoughts, based on a small amount of the data that is actually out there. What do you folks think?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff.

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The Regulars ;-)

RegularsIf you think about it, very few fictional sleuths really go it alone, especially in a series. That makes sense; after all, we all depend on others from time to time. And that’s got me thinking about…
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

…a quiz! Oh, stop it! I didn’t force you to visit today, did I? Didn’t think so! ;-)

Even the best fictional sleuths can’t pull it off alone. That’s why other regular characters are so important. And as a crime fiction fan, you know all of the regular characters in your top series, don’t you? Or do you? Take this handy quiz and find out. Match each question with the correct answer and see how many you get correct.

Ready? Pull up a chair and join the regulars – if you dare… ;-)

 

Chair

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Real Money

Real MoneySteve saw it lying on the ground next to that new-looking silver Audi. He glanced around to be sure he was alone. He was. Looking left and right as he crossed the parking bays, he kept going until he was close enough to the Audi to be sure. He was right! It was money! And it didn’t look like just a one-dollar bill, either. Leaning closer, Steve saw the markings more clearly – fifty bucks! That was more than he could have expected. Most people didn’t notice if they dropped a dollar or two. Some people didn’t notice a five or a ten, either. He’d even found a twenty once. But never fifty. Whoever dropped it must be doing well. He reached down, picked up the money, and straightened up again.

Just then, a voice behind him snarled, ‘Get the hell away from my car!’
Steve whirled around. ‘Sorry, man,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t touching your car.’
‘I saw you right there, bending over. God help you if you did any damage!’ The voice belonged to a man about six inches taller than Steve’s own five feet eleven. He had light brown, slicked back hair, and those had to be designer sunglasses. His dark pinstripe suit looked expensive, too. He pushed past Steve, glaring at him as he went, and checked the Audi carefully. Finally satisfied that his car was safe, he looked at Steve again.
‘So what were you doing anyway?’ he asked.
‘Nothing. No problem. I’m out of here.’

Steve turned to go. At least the guy hadn’t missed the fifty bucks. Anyway, he looked like he could afford to lose it. People like that usually could. And anyway, he didn’t need to treat Steve like that – as though he were something you scrape off your shoe. He had gotten about ten feet away when he heard the man’s voice again.

‘Come here a second.’ This time he wasn’t snarling.
Steve looked over his shoulder. ‘What?’
The other guy held his hands up to show he meant no harm. ‘I just want to talk to you. Honest.’
If this was going to be some kind of religious conversion thing, Steve wanted no part of it. He’d given up on the idea of God long ago. ‘What about?’
‘What do you do for a living?’
‘I’m not working right now.’ That was pretty obvious from the threadbare jeans, worn-out trainers and the ten-year-old jacket with the hole in the sleeve.
‘Thought so. Would you be interested in a job?’
‘What kind of job?’ He might be living in a homeless shelter, but he had his limits. He wasn’t interested in drug dealing or anything like that. He’d heard stories of what happened if you got involved with those people.
‘My name’s Brad – Brad Jamison. I run a sales business and I’m looking for some new people. You look like you could use a fresh start.’

Steve still wasn’t convinced. ‘What kind of sales?’
Brad read Steve’s facial expression. ‘Don’t worry, there’s nothing dangerous about it. I have a retirement property business. People looking for the right place to retire invest in one of my company’s properties. Then, when they’re ready, they move in – no need to burden their children. And my places are really terrific.’
‘I don’t know anything about real estate,’ Steve confessed.
‘You don’t have to. That’s where I come in. All you need to do is let people know about it.’
‘You mean getting leads? Something like that?’
‘That’s right. How about you get yourself cleaned up and meet me at this address in about an hour and a half.’ Brad pulled a business card out of his wallet and handed it to Steve, who nodded slowly and put it in his wallet.
‘I’m Steve Albright. I guess I’ll see you in an hour or so, then,’ he said.
‘Great!’ Brad watched Steve walk off with a slight smile. They always fell for the dropped money. He’d never failed yet with that. Used it whenever he needed a new sap.

Just under an hour and a half later, Steve walked up to the door at the address he’d been given. It was one of those offices in a larger building, with frosted letters on double glass doors: Elite Properties. This was the place. He pushed one of the doors open and walked in a little uncertainly. A beautiful young woman, complete with perfect suit and long, carefully arranged, blonde hair looked up at him. ‘May I help you?’ she asked.
‘I’m here to see Brad Jamison. He invited me to stop in.’ She’d never buy that, Steve thought.
‘Of course,’ she smiled. ‘Please have a seat, and he’ll be right with you.’
Five minutes later, Brad come out of his office into the reception area and walked right over to Steve. ‘You made it! That’s terrific! Come on in and let’s talk about what we do here and where you fit in.’

And that’s how it was for the first three weeks. Steve was pleasantly surprised at how well things were going. The work was easy, too. All he had to do was call people and send emails inviting them to come to Brad’s retirement seminars. That’s where Brad turned on the charm and showed them his properties. It almost always ended up in at least a few sales, and that’s where Steve earned his commission. Within a month he had enough money to move out of the shelter and into a small apartment. Soon he might even be able to buy a car.

One afternoon, he happened to be alone in the office. He was scrolling through his next list of clients when he heard the main office door open. Walking out into the reception area, he saw a couple who looked about sixty or so. When they saw him, the man said, ‘Is Brad Jamison here?’
‘No, I’m sorry, he’s not. Can I help you?’
‘I hope so. I think there’s been a horrible mistake. We went to one of his seminars, and, well, it all sounded great. So, we invested some money. Last week we drove to what’s supposed to be our new property. There was nothing there. Nothing but a vacant lot all covered with mud and trash.  We even saw a sign warning people about toxic chemicals.’
‘I’m sure there’s been some mistake of some kind. Why don’t you have a seat, and as soon as Mr. Jamison comes back, we’ll straighten it out.’
The couple nodded and sat down.

Twenty minutes later, Brad came into the office. Steve was about to come out of his own mini-office when the man spoke up. ‘Mr. Jamison, we need to talk to you about our property.’ Steve waited by his door to see what would happen.
‘Is there a problem?’
‘There certainly is!’ Then the man told him exactly what he’d told Steve. He ended by saying, ‘I feel that we’ve been cheated!’ His wife nodded in agreement.
‘I’m sorry that you feel that way,’ Brad said. ‘Let’s talk about it in my office.’ He waved a hand towards his office and the couple preceded him there.

Steve couldn’t resist the chance to hear how Brad would deal with this. He stepped quietly to the door, and almost immediately wished he hadn’t.
‘…nothing you can do,’ Brad was saying. ‘You signed the contract, which is legally binding.’
‘So we’re stuck with a useless piece of toxic land?’
‘Sorry, but that’s how things work out sometimes.’

Steve didn’t hear what came next, but the couple soon rushed out of the office. The woman was close to tears, her husband trying to reassure her with promises of talking to a lawyer. When Brad came out of the office, Steve asked him, ‘What was that all about?’
‘The fruits of our effort.’ Brad smiled.
‘What do you mean?’
‘That’s how we make our money. We have to have some legitimate property, for the brochures and the government. But the rest, well, if people don’t bother to check things out before they sign on the dotted line, that’s not my fault. And don’t worry. I have a great lawyer just waiting to come to our rescue, so there’s no problem there.’

Steve’s stomach knotted. He hadn’t intended to cheat anyone, especially not people like that. ‘You can’t do that, Brad,’ he finally said. ‘It’s going to come back to you, and it’s not right.’
‘I don’t hear you complaining about your salary. And who knows?’ Brad patted him on the back, ‘If you play your cards right, you could earn some real money in this business. Real money. Besides, you don’t want to do anything stupid. You’re in this, too, and if you do say anything, you’re deep in it.’

Steve thought about that for a few minutes after he went back to his desk. Real money. Then he remembered what it was like at the shelter, sleeping on top of the few clothes you owned so nobody would steal them. Scrounging for food and a shower. Hoping you’d find a couple of dollars someone dropped. The thought of prison wasn’t any better. He stood up and went back to Brad’s office, getting there just in time to see Brad hang up his office ‘phone with a smile.

‘Problem, Steve?’ he asked as Steve walked in.
‘No, just a question or two. Was that another sale?’ he asked, gesturing towards the telephone.
‘Yeah. And a good one, too. We’re gonna do well this month.’
‘Wouldn’t we do better concentrating on people with a money? They’d miss it less.’
‘Steve, you don’t get it. We can’t sell dreams to people who already have it all. The best thing is to get people who don’t. Those are the ones you sell on luxury.’

Steve had had enough. He moved towards Brad’s desk, leaned across it and pushed his face close to Brad’s. ‘You can’t screw people out of money they don’t have!’
Brad half rose in his chair. ‘Why not? You do.’
‘Not any more.’ A second later, Brad slumped back in his chair, the fancy gold letter opener now sticking crazily out of his chest. Steve stood for a second, listening carefully. Good. There was nobody else there. The letter opener would be easy to get rid of in the creek that lay about a block from the building. And soon he’d be ready to take over Brad’s business for himself. Only this time, he’d go for people with three cars and two houses. They’d never miss a few thousands.

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